Category Archives: Reviews

The Third Degree with Julie Kagawa

When destiny calls, legends rise.

Every millennium the missing pieces of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers are hunted, for they hold the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish.

As a temple burns to the ground Yumeko escapes with its greatest treasure – the first piece of the scroll. And when fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai she knows he seeks what she has. Kage is under order to kill those who stand in his way but will he be able to complete his mission? Will this be the dawn that sees the dragon wake?

I read Shadow of the Fox in two sittings a couple of weeks ago, so huge thanks to Nina for sending me a copy and giving me the chance to ask Julie Kagawa some questions as part of the blog tour! It is an engrossing read, I particularly liked just how the world was built with all the little details about food and clothes without getting bogged down in descriptions. The two main protagonists are great, I loved the humour in their interactions (even in very unfunny, potentially deadly circumstances) and as new characters were introduced they quickly came to life and fit into the story perfectly. It is a properly epic tale and I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment of their adventures!

Hi Julie welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the
third degree!

Since publishing your first book, The Iron King, in 2010, not a year has gone by without a new
title and/or the beginnings of a new series. Are they ideas that you have been polishing for
years, or have you simply not slept for the last 10 years?!
I’m constantly getting new ideas. Writing a book takes awhile, and once the excitement and
newness wears off, shiny new story ideas are bound to creep in. But since I can’t stop one story
to go write another, I keep them in a “new ideas” folder on my computer. I’ll type a few short
lines, either on characters, setting or plot, and file it away so it will be safe. That way, not only
will I not forget, I have a whole folder of new stories to be written once I’m done with my
current project.

After tackling fairies (not the cute ones), vampires, and dragons, why did the idea of
shapeshifters appeal next?
I love anime, and I especially love the legend of the kitsune. I actually wrote Shadow of the Fox
before the Iron Fey, but didn’t get it published until this year. The original version was an adult
fantasy, so I rewrote it as YA and the story is very different now. But I always loved that first
idea about a kitsune, so I’m thrilled that Shadow of the Fox is out in the world now.

Shadow of the Fox is the beginning of a new series that brings Japanese mythology to life. Did
you consider bringing it into a contemporary Western setting or was it always going to be in an
ancient land?
It was always going to be set in an ancient, mythological Japan, because the history, culture,
settings and architecture is beautiful and fascinating. I didn’t only want to write about
Japanese mythology, I wanted to write a book set in a land of samurai and ninja. Which is hard
to do in a contemporary Western setting.

How much research went into the customs and clothing you describe so vividly in the book? Are these largely based on reality?
A lot of the research that went into Shadow of the Fox comes from years and years of watching
anime and old samurai movies by Japanese directors. Movies like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo,
Thirteen Assassins and the like, are very helpful when it comes to clothing, buildings and
terrain. Years of watching anime has taught me a lot about Japanese folklore and legend, as
many mythological creatures like kitsune, oni and tanuki appear in anime a lot. But I’ve also
studied the history of Japan, especially around the Sengoku era, because that point in Japanese
history is where Shadow of the Fox is inspired.

Do you plan in advance how many books in a series? Have you decided what’s coming next?
I usually know how many books beforehand. I tend to like trilogies, so Shadow of the Fox will
have three books in the series. I just finished book two, Soul of the Sword, so now I’m onto
book three.

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?
Right now I’m reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, and I’d recommend it to anyone
who loves fantasy, particularly if you like beautiful writing and almost surreal worlds.

Any plans to visit your UK based fans?
Not at the moment, but the year is nearly over, and who knows what the next year will bring?

Thank you so much for giving up your time to answer these questions!
Thanks for having me!

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix


In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

With We Sold our Souls Grady Hendrix has forced his way into a *very* short list of authors for whom I will drop whatever I am reading to read whenever a new book comes out!

We Sold Our Souls is the most metal book I have ever read! It is a completely mad road trip of a novel with chapter titles ripped from the albums of the greatest metal bands that bestride the earth, Kris Pulaski is an awesome, if slightly worn (but not broken) protagonist that I found impossible not to root for.

Metal Never Retreats.

With the world and all the power of a mighty media machine set against her, she sets off to confront her nemesis and reclaim what is rightfully hers. Losing friends, and finding compatriots set against her she refuses to give up; even at the possible cost of her sanity.

Metal Never Surrenders.

With only one doubtful ally at her side (who may be more damaged and paranoid than she is) and unable to rely on fellow travelers, she sets off towards Hellstock ’19 and her destiny!

Metal Never Dies!

With enemies on all sides, no allies behind her and facing almost certain destruction ahead, Kris gets the band together one last time for an explosive finale that left my eyes ringing for hours after I had finished!

Grady Hendrix’s writing is so powerful that at one point I had to put down We Sold Our Souls and just breathe, as he had set off an attack of claustrophobia. It was in the chapter titled Sleep’s Holy Mountain as it brought back a memory of a time when crawling through Boomslang Cave that I thought I had become stuck, it only lasted for a moment but the memory of having a mountain pressing down against me has forever lurked in my subconscious.

When I finally turned the final page, I knew two things were true: Black Iron Mountain is real and I really, really want to hear Dürt Würk’s Troglodyte (three things if you count “it is better to burn out than sell out”).

For those about to read We Sold Our Souls I salute you!

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix published by Quirk Books, is available now from most book shops and many many fine libraries!

We Sold Our Souls is funny, dark, scary and you should definitely read it! Trust me I am a Librarian!

You’re Snug With Me – picture book review

 


At the start of winter, two bear cubs are born, deep in their den in the frozen north. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they ask. “‘Above us is a land of ice and snow.” “What lies beyond the ice and snow?” they ask. “The ocean, full of ice from long ago.” And as they learn the secrets of the earth and their place in it, Mama Bear whispers, “You’re snug with me.”

You’re Snug With Me is the second time Lantana have paired Chitra Soundar with Poonam Mistry, after You’re Safe With Me, and they are a fabulous team. It is not quite a sequel, but they are both environmentally minded and each have some factual science behind the lyrical stories. My favourite example of that from this book, is:

“As the snow fell harder, the cubs grew curious. “Will it always be dark?” they asked.

“It is dark because we are far from the sun during the winter months.”

The cubs trembled.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Mama Bear. “The Earth dances on her toes and when she tilts, our nights will get shorter and spring will return.”

While the style of drawing remains consistent between the two books, the minimal colour palette in this chilly tale is completely different to that of You’re Safe With Me:  blue, white, and yellow. It is perfect for the snow filled setting, just as green, red, and yellow was perfect for the rainforest setting of Safe. The illustrations are anything but minimal though, taking up all the space with beautiful patterns making up stylised animals in breathtaking scenes. The view changes depending on how close you are to the book, with so much detail to take in.

Although Lantana are small, their growing list of picture books is extremely impressive, some of my absolute favourite titles of recent years have come from them, so do take a look at their catalogue. They make a point of working with authors and illustrators from a wide range of cultures and nationalities to ensure that every child has a chance to see themselves in stories; ‘a publishing house with inclusivity at its heart’

A Storm of Ice and Stars by Lisa Lueddecke

I hope you read our guest post from Lisa Lueddecke as part of a blog tour promoting her second book, A Storm of Ice and Stars, earlier this month. I was also sent a copy of the book to read and review.

Ice, myth, magic and danger in this bone-chilling, page-turning, beautifully written fantasy novel set in the same world as A SHIVER OF SNOW AND SKY. Blood-red lights have appeared in the sky over the frozen island of Skane, causing a cloak of fear and suspicion to fall over the village like a blanket of snow. In a desperate attempt to keep out the plague, the village elders barricade its borders – no-one, no matter how in need of help, will be permitted to enter in case they bring infection with them. Teenager Janna refuses to turn her back on people seeking refuge and is banished to the swirling snow and lurking darkness beyond the village. Can she survive?

The opening paragraphs gracefully introduce us to the vast, quiet, cold island of Skane and the dangerous sky that promises death for many. Our main character has long been considered odd by the village and, when something terrible happens the night after the villagers close their borders for fear of plague, these whispers of witchcraft turn into loud accusations and she is forced to leave. I was turning the pages at speed at this point, fearing what was coming, but once her trek from the village begins it became (for me) less tense and more clearly pre-destined, turning into a quest to plead with the Gods to save those who were kind to her. The writing is truly atmospheric, it is a very wintery read. Well paced, with character building flashbacks that do a lot to explain her behaviour, and a satisfying end.

Stay a Little Longer by Bali Rai – Review

Aman’s dad is gone, leaving her feeling lost and alone. She struggles to talk about it, but it’s a fact and he isn’t coming back. It just seems to be her and mum against the world, even against their family. When a lovely man called Gurnam moves into her street, it looks like he might fill a little gap in her life. But Gurnam has his own sadness. One that’s far bigger than Aman can understand and it’s tearing his life apart…A touching and evocative tale of unlikely friendships and finding happiness in the hardest of times.

It is set in the outskirts of Leicester, Bali’s hometown, with a diverse and *real* cast of characters. Bullies try to intimidate Aman and Gurnam, who recently moved onto her street, comes to support her. Thus begins the friendship between him and her family. Aman and her mum aren’t religious but they go to the gurdwara for a friend’s blessing as well as celebrating Christmas both in their home and with their community in a new garden project. I don’t want to spoiler the story too much but the hard hitting emotional impact of this book comes from its sensitive portrayal of poor mental health and grief, as Aman tries to understand why Gurnam may have left his family and how she can make him realise that it is worth staying a little longer. There are some beautiful lines about loss and feeling sad, and some really heartbreaking scenes.

Bali Rai has written a number of titles for Barrington Stoke (you all know how much I love Barrington Stoke) since their inception, all of which are perfectly pitched at their target audience, as well as a number of engrossing YA and entertaining younger readers for other publishers. Stay a Little Longer is, I think, one of his best so far.

Peace and Me by Ali Winter and Mikael El Fathi – Review

 

What does peace mean to you? This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf.

Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

This book is Lantana Publishing‘s first foray into non-fiction, and is both interesting and beautiful. Twelve Nobel prize winners each have a double page spread with a brief but fascinating snippet about their life and achievements, written by Ali Winter. It is targeted at 7-11year olds but I honestly think older children (and adults) will get something out of it too, I certainly wasn’t aware of all the laureates chosen to be included, they are a really diverse selection of people from all over the world.
It is so colourful and eyecatching. The textures and layout of each page really make it stand out, but they fit together perfectly. Mikael El Fathi’s illustrations really give you a sense of what made/makes each person special.
Definitely one for every school library, and hopefully lots of homes too! It is being published next week on 21st September 2018, The International Day of Peace, very appropriate.

Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson – Review

Matthew Henson was simply an ordinary man. That was, until Commander Robert E. Peary entered his life, and offered him a chance at true adventure. Henson would become navigator, Craftsman, Translator, and right-hand man on a treacherous journey to the North Pole. Defying the odds and the many prejudices that faced him to become a true pioneer.

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I am a big fan of both Barrington Stoke and Catherine Johnson, so I leapt at the chance of a copy of her new title for them.

This is the story of the first man to reach the North Pole, but not the man celebrated for it. It tells us about his life from the day he ran away from his step-mother’s home until the day he was finally (very belatedly) recognised for his contribution to the expedition. The language is simple but evocative, the characters that he meets are brought to life in a few words of description and then a boy’s (becoming a man’s) view of their acts. You’ll shake your head in frustration at his treatment at the hands of white people while on land, incompatible with his experiences adventuring. His acceptance of “this is how life is” is devastating but real. The three parts to the story are wonderfully highlighted by the vignettes on every page by Katie Hickey.I realised that Catherine Johnson has written about Matthew Henson for Barrington Stoke before, some of you might have Arctic Hero in your biography section of the library, but this is a far more personal vision of his life. A quick read that packs an entire life in, and what a life!

For those of you that don’t know: Barrington Stoke have a well deserved reputation for creating very readable books to appeal to reluctant or struggling readers, having developed a unique dyslexia friendly font and pioneered the use of tinted paper. They have an ever growing catalogue of specially commissioned titles from an amazing range of authors for all ages/reading ages of children. These titles are always beautiful demonstrations of how, sometimes, less is more, and that a book doesn’t have to be difficult to read in order to be worth reading. If school librarians or teachers are reading this, look into getting your students signed up to be young editors.

 

The Muslims by Zanib Mian

I first came across this book when I saw it mentioned in an article in Books for Keeps by Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor, one of a series of articles they’re writing looking at representations of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices in children’s books. I tweeted about how much I liked the sound of it and the author very kindly offered to send me a copy, which happened to arrive the day before it was announced that it had won The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2018, and I inhaled it on a bus journey the following day.

One of the other titles mentioned in that same article is I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, which is a really exciting YA novel about a Muslim girl becoming more devout as she learns more about Islam, affected by the Prevent strategy and under the threat of potential radicalisation. I had a few interesting conversations about the representation of a range of Muslim backgrounds when it came out in January, I thought that the characters were portrayed very realistically and I could see a number of my school friends in there, but the only disappointment is that she was *actually* at risk of radicalisation. “Disappointment” isn’t quite the right word there, it helped to make the story exciting, but what I mean is that there is a real need for Muslim stories that don’t focus on extremism, but that do give a picture of British Muslim life. That is exactly what The Muslims does, albeit for a younger audience, and that is why I love it so much.

Omar is a normal 9 year old boy (with an invisible dragon following him) who is worried about starting a new school. It certainly doesn’t shy away from Islamophobia and racism, there is a mean boy in his new class who tells him to “go home” and his grumpy neighbour coins the name “The Muslims” when talking about them to her son, but it deals with it with great humour and honesty. He tells us about Ramadan and has a go at fasting (and hopes that Allah will reward him with a Ferrari), he talks about duas and praying, he brings the reader to the Mosque, all without patronising children that know about all of this (indeed, letting them see themselves in the story) but at the same time introducing it to non-Muslim readers in a really entertaining way. One scene in particular, on their way to Manchester to visit cousins, made me laugh out loud on the bus. It is published by a tiny, pretty new publishing house called Sweet Apple, who aim to publish high quality commercial picture books that truly reflect the world we live in, and is their first foray into books for older readers.

The Muslims is a gem of a book, it needs to be in every school and on every reading list. I’m really looking forward to more of Omar’s adventures!

*at the time of writing, The Muslims is on special offer at Letterbox Library for a mere £5!

Dark Nights: Metal

The Dark Knight has uncovered one of the lost mysteries of the universe…one that could destroy the very fabric of the DC Universe! The dark corners of reality that have never been seen till now! The Dark Multiverse is revealed in all its devastating danger–a team of twisted, evil versions of Batman hellbent on destroying the DC Universe!

I first read of the demon Barbatos in Batman 452, the first part of Dark Knight, Dark City trilogy – you may remember it, it had the Mike “Hellboy” Mignola cover, actually the covers for all three issues were by Mignola. I remember tracking the comics down for ages before finding them for sale at a stall on Cape Town train Station. It was these three comics that made me a Batman fan – written by Peter Milligan, they detailed the Batman hunting for his foe the Riddler through the streets of Gotham, plagued by riddles that made no sense, flashbacks to the founding fathers of the United States of America engaging in a sacrifice to raise a demon. This was the stuff of ‘70’s pulp horror novels and the satanic panic of the ‘80’s, it had teenage me hooked!

Flashforward 27 years to the release of Metal – a miniseries to end all miniseries, centring on the nightmares of the Batman, the world is slipping into darkness, twisted beings from the darkest realities stalk the night. All of them wearing the symbol of the Bat and towering above them all, its name spoken only in whispers is Barbatos!

I had to, read it I mean again and again. How could the Batman triumph against his darkest selves, the story was dark and twisted, referencing the darkest aspects of the Batmythology, this is honestly I think Scott Snyder’s finest written work featuring the Bat!

The artwork by Greg Capullo fits the tone of the story perfectly! I have not read a comic illustrated by him since I cancelled my Spawn subscription. His work is better than I remember it – and I remember it being phenomenal!

Snyders words and Capullo’s art blend together to bring you the darkest takes on the Darkest Knight and it works perfectly!

God, I was 15 again, a Batfan for the first time and I revelled in it!

I have read Metal even, maybe eight times since I received a copy and tonight I am going to read it again!

You should too – go on treat your shelf!

Akissi: Tales of Mischief


What do flying sheep, super-missiles, and grandmother-attacking coconuts have in common?

One feisty little girl!

Join Akissi and friends as they get up to all sorts of antics around their town in the Ivory coast.

There’s loads of fun to be had… as long as they manage to stay out of trouble!

I have been aware of Marguerite Abouet’s work for a few years now as a friend introduced me to her Aya series of graphic novels about a young woman living in Yop City in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1970’s. Written by Marguerite and illustrated by her husband and partner Clément Oubrerie.

Akissi, published in English by Flying Eye Books was a welcome return to West Africa, a series of the comic misadventures about the eponymous heroine, a small girl living in a village somewhere in the Côte d’Ivoire. Written for a young audience, this comic will be a hit with readers of all ages.

Marguerite Abouet is a keen observer of the lives of small children, she has captured several things that I have found my toddler doing and going by the cartoons I have many more to look forward to; although I hope and pray that we never acquire a pet monkey! There was one incident in the book involving Akissi and her older brother Fofana that took place one night when she was too afraid to go outside that mirrored an event from my childhood (I am not going to say which one in case my brother ever reads this).

My favourite vignette (and there are so many to choose from) was Sunday Feast, it made me laugh out loud (although the hilarity as tinged with a hint of guilt at the potential blasphemy)

Akissi is funny, heartfelt and a very real look into the lives of children!

The art in this volume is by Mathieu Sapin who captures the frenetic energy of children running around or just being, perfectly!